What Do They Want? Human Rights for All!

Whenever the media talks about “Occupy Wall Street,” the question inevitably gets posed “what do they want?”  It seems the pundits want policy proposals in technical terms, and the people want a vision and a new society.  So long as they continue speaking different languages, they will fail to understand each other.  New policies are part of a new society, but what the growing movement for occupation is clamoring for goes far deeper than that.  The messages we hear have to do with our values, how we define and organize ourselves writ large, and what we are willing to do for what we believe in.  I believe what they are asking for is simple: human rights in the United States for everyone, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you will find much of what “they” (and they are us all) want.

So focusing only on the question of what they want is not only silly, because it is clear, it also – intentionally or not – undermines the effort.  The real question with which we must all grapple: how do we create the society we know we want?  The major political parties are part of the problem, not the solution.  The corporate sector wields vast power, and it is not clear how to penetrate it or find its weaknesses.  Some grassroots corporate campaigns, such as the Fair Food Campaign led by farmworkers in Florida (the Coalition of Immokalee Workers), have piloted promising and impressive strategies towards holding corporations accountable for particular problems and in particular sectors.   But a strategy to develop a comprehensive challenge to corporate power is no small task.

Nonetheless, given that such concentration of power and wealth has spurred war, economic suffering, growing displacement of American families, and genuine misery across the country, it seems that any person of conscience would agree that no matter how difficult the road forward may be, we need to start building this path.   A path towards a country with a human rights vision, that values every member of society, where 99% of its people are not relegated to serve the greed of the top 1%, is without doubt worth building.

Ultimately we will need leaders to build this path.  But who might the critical leaders be?  The people who have the greatest and most direct experience trying to forge this path are the poor.  Poor communities have been struggling against violations of their economic and social rights for a shameful amount of time.  We should join their struggle (as more and more of us join their ranks in this new economy) and learn from their wisdom.  To go forward as the 99%, we must stick to a vision that is empowering of everyone, especially those who have already suffered most.

I am hopeful and thankful for those who have decided they are not just going to protest for a day: but they are going to stick and stay – and occupy, until their vision of just society, with human rights and dignity for all, becomes our new reality.